Dealing with food allergies while eating out or travelling

b with shinkansen bento

My son Benjamin (6 years old next month) is allergic to all tree nuts – almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachio, cashew, etc. We’ve had accidental ingestion in the past where he ended up in the emergency so we are very careful with his food but alas, sometimes even I fail.

The last incident was a year and a half ago when we were dining in a dimly lit restaurant and the staff served brown bread, not informing us that it was actually walnut bread. I didn’t check as well because I avoid eating bread and normally Benjamin doesn’t eat bread that much but that night, he did and boom.

We’ve survived a year and half without any allergy related incident after that, we even travelled and stayed at four different countries without any awful surprises.

WHAT ABOUT EATING OUT?

Whenever we eat out, we always stick to Japanese food – mostly because that’s what we like and prefer and because Japanese dishes are not too complicated. You’ll have plain rice, miso soup with some tofu or vegetables/seaweeds and a grilled fish or meats with vegetables. Sauces mostly consist of only soy sauce, some mirin. We have a Japanese restaurant we always frequent every weekend at lunch and not once he had some sort of allergic reaction to the dishes we’ve ordered so far for him.

However, this week, we wanted to try a new Japanese restaurant.

Benjamin said he wanted to eat ramen so we ordered that and he was looking forward to it with gusto. Japanese restaurants usually serve small appetizers at the start and the waitress brought in what seemed like harmless tofu with some miso paste on top. Benjamin took a spoonful and I did too. I realized that it’s a different kind of tofu – it’s goma tofu (tofu mixed with sesame).

A few minutes later, Benjamin fell ill. He is fighting through it telling me he is just tired (from his earlier swimming lessons) and that he is also sleepy. He leaned on me with teary eyes, asked for hot tea and water. I suspected something was not right and gave him Aerius, an anti-histamine that I always carry in my bag wherever we go. Two minutes later, he laid down and started to sneeze. His bowl of ramen came but he was surprisingly disinterested, though saying earlier that he was hungry.

A few seconds later, he gagged and my daughter was quick to carry him out to the restaurant, to the nearest toilet. I followed behind them.

We didn’t reach the toilet.

He projectile vomited just a few steps away, to the shock of the manager at the reception desk at the restaurant’s entrance. At the toilet, his small body was lurching forward, throwing up all the things his body considers as poison. When the vomiting stopped, nasal congestion set in and he wasn’t able to breathe from his nose.

While comforting him, I managed to do a Google searched about sesame seed allergy. And voila – it seems that people who are allergic to tree nuts could also be allergic to seeds. Who knew. It was my first time to learn about it, and we had to find out in a very scary and messy way.

Ambulance was called just to make sure his blood pressure and oxygen levels were not dropping. Thankfully, his vitals were stable and save for the nasal congestion and watery eyes, he was fine. He was tired from all the vomiting though so we stayed a bit.

WHAT ABOUT TRAVELLING?

Now you may ask, with my love for taking the kids to travel with me, am I not discouraged to go out at all? Was there a time I didn’t want to travel because of Benjamin?

I admit, I get anxious whenever I take him out long enough for us to eat outside during meal times i.e., travelling to another place, including plane rides. However, I don’t want this anxiety to take over me, restricting my son of going out and seeing the beautiful world outside.

We just have to accept and deal with this health matter and do whatever we can. We do not want this ‘disability’ to overwhelm us and keep him inside all the time, after all, Benjamin LOVES travelling – he loves planes and airports and now I just found out from our recent trip, hiking in the mountains!

b in Austria

b hiking in austria 1
p and b hiking in Austria 2

His allergic reactions so far had been rashes/hives, nasal congestion and vomiting. No anaphylactic reaction so far (thank GOD!!). It’s not life threatening now and hope it stays that way. But still we take precautions whenever we are out and about.

HOW TO TRAVEL WITH KIDS WITH FOOD ALLERGIES

1. Stay at accommodations with a kitchen, fridge or microwave, as much as you can.

It would be easier and safer to cook if the allergies are more complicated. When we were in Japan, we stayed in an Airbnb rather than a hotel so we make some our meals there especially breakfast. It does require some additional work, but I had piece of mind knowing my child is safe. Another bonus is that it’s very cost-effective.

2. Find a local grocery store.

After you have reached your destination, the first stop you need to make is the grocery store in order to stock up on safe foods for your child.

3. Research area restaurants.

There is nothing worse than getting to a restaurant with your hungry brood and finding out you can’t eat there.

4. When eating out especially in a new restaurant or in another country away from home, always ask what is in the menu.

5. Always order the simplest dish as possible.

No complicated sauces. When we were in Germany and Austria I just ordered sausages and french fries – I know, I know, not the healthiest options but when it comes down to food, I’d rather opt for a bit unhealthy but safe rather than healthy but unsafe or with questionable ingredients.

6. Pack safe foods.

For road trips, it’s more convenient to pack safe foods for your child with allergies rather than be wary what to give him during drive breaks. For airline meals – For people with food allergies, airline meals pose a particular risk. Many airlines will organise a special meal according to individual requirements, so mention it during booking and when they serve, check again.

7. Take note of emergency numbers at the destination and save it your phone.

8. Always pack allergy medication wherever you go.

To avoid problems at airport security, pack the medication in safe ziplocs and bring prescription, if available.

9. Don’t expect the general public to understand.

THIS. There’s so much stigma around food allergies that some people shrug it off as “disease of the rich kids” or “just an excuse for picky eaters”. Unbelievable because many people actually die of food allergies every year all over the world.

10. Despite all of the (minor) discomfort, ENJOY YOUR VACATION.

Food allergies don’t have to rule your vacation, but you do need to pay attention. With a little preparation, you and your family can enjoy your family time together in a fun and safe environment.

Ben in Niigata 1

Our travel experiences with Benjamin have been very positive so far. We understand the nature of his allergies and make careful choices based on this information. So far, Benjamin (6 years old next month) had been to Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Prague, Germany and Austria. Travelling with a child who has food allergies requires some extra planning, but the rewards of seeing him with sparkle in his eyes at each new place or new experience is well worth it.

Do you have a child/children with food allergies? How does this affect your travels?

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